The Pirates have lost both Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer to injury, severely compromising their infield depth. It’d make sense to see Pittsburgh connected to a number of third basemen in the coming days. They’re not the only team with uncertainties at the hot corner either, as the Mets still don’t know when David Wright will return. Multiple teams would be open to adding a bench bat/utility option capable of handling third base. And, other clubs, such as the White Sox and Indians, may be interested in adding a controllable option to solidify the position in 2016. Here’s a look around the league at some names that could make sense as trade candidates.
Juan Uribe (Braves), Chris Johnson (Braves), Kelly Johnson (Braves), Aramis Ramirez (Brewers), Martin Prado (Marlins), Cody Asche (Phillies), Will Middlebrooks (Padres), Luis Valbuena (Astros), Brett Lawrie (Athletics)
- The Braves possess a trio of veteran options that could fill a need for any club at third base, though trading Chris Johnson will be extremely difficult due to the remaining $19.99MM that he’s guaranteed through 2017. He’s looked overmatched as a starter more often than not, but Johnson does have a pair of nice seasons under his belt, mostly due to BABIP inflation. At the very least, Johnson handles left-handed pitching well. He could be flipped in a swap of bad contracts or have his contract absorbed by another club to entice Atlanta to part with greater talent in a trade.
- Uribe and Kelly Johnson are both versatile veterans that have performed well with the Braves. Uribe’s hit .279/.346/.456 with seven homers and sound defense since coming over from the Dodgers. Johnson’s return to Atlanta has resulted in a .275/.323/.455 slash line. He can play anywhere on the diamond and hasn’t spent much time at third in 2015, but he does have 539 innings there over the past three seasons. Uribe has $2.73MM remaining on his contract, while Johnson’s remaining $631K is a manageable sum for any team.
- Ramirez falls into the “expensive veteran” category and probably wouldn’t command a significant return due to his contract and early-season struggles. He’s still owed $5.89MM this season, but on the plus side, his bat has come to life over the past month. This is an admittedly arbitrary endpoint, but dating back to June 7, Ramirez is hitting .308/.357/.521 in 34 games. Perhaps that’s enough to pique another club’s interest.
- The Marlins have shown zero interest in trading Prado, but the versatile veteran could slide into a number of teams’ rosters at a variety of positions. He spent a month on the disabled list recently but has looked fine since being activated, collecting five hits (two doubles) in 15 at-bats. A small sample, to be sure, but Prado’s hitting a respectable .275/.317/.375 on the season as a whole, and those numbers would trend upward away from Marlins Park, most likely. He’s controlled through 2016, however, so Miami likely wants to keep him around to take another shot at contending next year.
- Once one of the Phillies’ top prospects, Asche has moved to left field to accommodate the emergent Maikel Franco. Asche was solid, if unspectacular at the plate in 2014, homering 10 times to go along with a .252/.309/.390 batting line (96 OPS+) in 434 plate appearances. However, the 25-year-old’s body of work as a whole in the Majors has produced just a .246/.298/.379 batting line. The Phillies need all the young talent they can get, but perhaps they could swap Asche with another struggling prospect and see if a change of scenery (and, in Asche’s case, a return to his natural position) helps both.
- A change of scenery did little to benefit Middlebrooks, as it’s been more of the same for the 26-year-old in San Diego. He’s still showing some power, but he’s walking less than ever and has just a .213/.242/.362 batting line with the Padres. His strikeout rate is down, so perhaps if he can find the 40 or so points missing from his career BABIP mark, the offense would at least look passable.
- Valbuena’s started at third base all year in Houston and has one of the most bizarre batting lines in baseball this season. At 29 years old, he’s exploded with the most power of his career (19 homers, .228 ISO), but he’s hitting just .207/.290/.435 overall. With Jed Lowrie on the mend, the Astros could conceivably afford to move Valbuena to a team in need of some pop at third base (or at second base).
- Lawrie’s name hasn’t come up as a trade candidate to this point, but if Oakland ends up selling, there’s little reason to think that Billy Beane wouldn’t at least entertain the thought of moving Lawrie. After a slow start, Lawrie’s hitting .298/.331/.444. He’s controllable for two seasons beyond he current campaign, so he’d require a club to part with significant talent in order to land him.
Utility Players/Backups/Displaced Veterans
Alex Guerrero (Dodgers), Alberto Callaspo (Dodgers), Gordon Beckham (White Sox), Mike Aviles (Indians), Aaron Hill (Diamondbacks), Cliff Pennington (Diamondbacks), Yangervis Solarte (Padres), Marwin Gonzalez (Astros), Eduardo Escobar (Twins), Eduardo Nunez (Twins), Hernan Perez (Brewers), Joaquin Arias (Giants), Ehire Adrianza (Giants), Conor Gillaspie (White Sox), Casey McGehee (Marlins)
- Guerrero’s been a utility player in L.A. this season and has played sparingly. He’s shown great power when in the lineup, however, homering 10 times in 166 plate appearances. There’s a clause in his contract that allows him to become a free agent at season’s end if traded, though at least one report has indicated that he’d waive that clause in order to receive everyday playing time. That seems like a lot of leverage to give up, so I’m skeptical, but he could benefit from a greater role elsewhere.
- Callaspo, Beckham, Aviles, Hill and Pennington each have some money remaining on their deals (well — a ton of money in Hill’s case, as he’s owed $17MM through the end of next season). None of the group is hitting at all in 2015, though Aviles is performing the best at the plate. Aviles and Pennington both have the bonus of being able to play shortstop and second base. Hill, Beckham and Callaspo can all play second or third.
- Solarte, Gonzalez, Escobar and Nunez can all play all over the infield, and both Nunez and Escobar have seen corner outfield time as well. Each of these four has been penciled in as something a bit more than a utility player recently, though no one from this group has showed sustained success at the plate. The Twins and Astros are both contending, so they’d likely need to receive Major League talent back to part with their utility options.
- Perez, Adrianza and Arias are all capable of handling multiple positions as well, but each has posted dismal numbers at the plate this season.
- Gillaspie, who saw the bulk of starts at third base for Chicago over the past few seasons, was recently designated for assignment. He’s not a great defender and doesn’t hit lefties, but he’s a competent bat against right-handed pitching and has shown enough power to hit double-digit homers. McGehee was released by the Giants and returned to Miami, where he resuscitated his career in 2014. However, he hasn’t hit much at either stop this season.
Currently in the Minors
Lonnie Chisenhall (Indians), Matt Davidson (White Sox), Mike Olt (Cubs), Erisbel Arruebarrena (Dodgers), Matt Dominguez (Brewers), Elian Herrera (Brewers), Kevin Frandsen (Giants), Ryan Roberts (A’s), Steve Lombardozzi (Pirates)
As I did in looking at second basemen, I kept the “currently in the minors” section to players who have some degree of big league experience already. Chisenhall was a starter as recently as last season, but he’s never strung together any consistent success, is a poor defender and has struggled against left-handed pitching. Davidson and Olt both graced Top 100 prospect lists a couple of years ago, but both have issues making contact. Arruebarena’s a defensive specialist at shortstop that is owed about $14.26MM through 2018. Dominguez hasn’t hit at Triple-A with the Brewers or Astros in 2015, though he’s still just 25 years old and has shown 20-homer pop in the Majors before. Herrera’s a utility option that is hitting well at Triple-A but hasn’t hit in 470 big league plate appearances. Frandsen, 33, and the 34-year-old Roberts are both veteran righty bats that can play multiple positions. Each is hitting well in the minors. Lombardozzi represents another versatile option that’s never hit much in the Majors.